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V-42 FSSF Stiletto in World War II
The V-42 Stiletto was specially designed for use by members of the U.S.-Canadian First Special Service Force (FSSF). This unconventional commando unit, organized in 1942 and disbanded in December 1944, was known as FSSF, the "Devil's Brigade" or just "the Force." They were trained as ski troops and for special operations, eventually serving in the Aleutian Islands, Italy, and southern France.
The design of the knife came from the suggestions of a number of FSSF officers and men. The blade design was contributed by Gen. Robert Frederick (FSSF Commander) and the distinctive "skull crusher" pommel point coming from Col. Orval Baldwin (Supply Officer). The blade resembles the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife. That knife may have been observed by Frederick who had been through British Commando training in Scotland.
In mid-1942, W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co. and two other manufacturers were asked to produce prototypes of the FSSF stiletto design. The Case submission was accepted and an order placed. In November 1942, a shipment of 1,750 of the knives was received, designated in procurement documents as "Knives, Fighting Commando Type V-42, including leather sheath." They were delivered to FSSF at Ft. William Henry Harrison, Helena, MT. Production totaled 3,420 knives with the last delivery in November 1943. Records also indicate that seventy V-42 knives were sent to the Brooklyn Navy Depot in late 1942 and early 1943, the only V-42 knives known to be procured outside FSSF.
While the official nomenclature for this knife was "Knife, Fighting Commando Type V-42," that was not how it was called in practice. Most referred to it as the "V-42 Stiletto" or, in the FSSF unit, just the "Force Knife."
The V-42 blued stiletto blade is 7 5/16 inch long, and the knife has an overall length of 12 inches. The handle is made of a stack of finely serrated leather washers and the pommel ends in a short point for use as a "skull crusher." As seen in the top photo on this page, the original WW II production knife is marked "CASE" on the ricasso just above a section of the rear blade near the blade shoulder that is serrated for use as a thumb rest to help align the blade during a thrust (the "thumbprint").
The V-42 Stiletto is dangerous, even to carry. It has a very sharp blade as well as the point on the pommel that can be the source of accidental injury. After experiencing such problems, FSSF users modified the pommel in the field by filing the point down. The sheath, made long enough to clear an Arctic parka, was also modified with small plates at the tip to prevent the point from cutting through. These changes were not done at the factory but were field expedients.
The V-42 design included many details which may or may not be present in individual samples or reproductions. The prototypes had bright blades, smooth handles, and a fiber spacer at the guard while production V-42 stilettos were blued, had roughened leather washers in the grip, and no fibre spacer as it was found that they broke off in use. Several different lengths have been observed in original knives.
The FSSF organization was the grandfather of most Special Forces units in the U.S. military today. As a tribute to the high esteem earned by FSSF, many of today's units have the FSSF V-42 Stiletto in their unit insignia. The U.S. Dept. of Defense Institute of Heraldry describes the symbolism of 1st Special Forces Regimental Insignia, specifically calling out the role of the V-42 knife:
The shield of the Coat of Arms was approved for the First Special Service Force of World War II on 26 February 1943. The knife is of a distinctive shape and pattern and was issued only to the First Special Service Force. The crest is the crossed arrows from the collar insignia worn by the First Special Service Force in World War II but changed from gold to silver for harmony with the shield and to make a difference from the collar insignia. The coat of arms and distinctive unit insignia was approved on 8 July 1960.
Material on this page adapted from the books referenced below and other sources. Thanks to Colin MacGregor Stevens for his help.
Where to Buy the V-42 FSSF Stiletto
Original V-42 FSSF Stilettos are very rare, but can be found at quality militaria dealers. Use eBay and other militaria auctions to find occasional sales of original knives, but use caution because reproductions are often misrepresented as original. Amazon.com offers several good quality V-42 reproductions as well as related books.
Recommended Book about the V-42 FSSF Stiletto
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